Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three years after the coup: injustice still reigns

On June 28, 2009, I woke up and started showering. The hot water felt good until the electricity went off. I thought: here we go again, another cut in power. Maybe it will come on in a few minutes – or at least after a few hours.  This wasn’t the programmed all day power cut we have here every so often.

But I was wrong. The electricity was off almost all day. Because I have a laptop and an internet modem (like a dial-up via cell phone), I was able to follow what was happening.

June 28 had been scheduled for a poll promoted by President Mel Zelaya, asking if the people wanted to have a fourth voting box in November to decide if they were in favor of having a constitutional convention  to rewrite the country’s constitution -  long and, in the eyes of many, a flawed document.

The weeks before the scheduled pool had been filled with invective – including claims that Zelaya was planning to turn Honduras into a “dictatorship” like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, that Zelaya was seeking a second term (which was technically impossible in terms of the poll.) The environment was not conducive for dialogue.

Well, the Supreme Court had decided to arrest Zelaya and remove him from the presidency. Military troops arrived at his house in the early morning hours, picked him up, stopped at the Soto Cano/Palermo airforce base (nominally a Honduras base, but there are more than 500 US military there also), and then left him in Costa Rica.

The congress met, followed up on the removal of the president, and named as president Roberto Micheletti, the president of Congress.

Democracy had been undermined and continued to be undermined in the next few months. We experienced curfews, including one lasting two full days. In some places demonstrations were violently put down. I did not see them, since the situation here in the West of Honduras has been fairly calm.

People went to the streets, especially in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, where they were met with repression by the police and military.

A number of deaths followed, starting on July 5, with a young man killed when the crowd waited at the Tegucigalpa airport for Zelaya aborted effort to return.

Almost all the world condemned the coup, especially the Organization of American States and many European countries. Many international funding organizations that worked with and through the government suspended their aid.

The US government spoke out against the coup and revoked the visas to the US of some coup supporters and organizers. However, the US never ended its aid. As I see it, the US response was weak and may have given aid and comfort to the coup leaders. This can be seen especially in the reactions of the US State Department as the schedule November 2009 presidential and congressional elections approached. 

What are the effects of the coup?

A even more divided society resulted.

I believe that the coup opened the space for even more influence in the country by the drug cartels. They were tied to politicians, the rich, and the police. I think the drug cartels gained.

There have been many deaths – of journalists as well as opponents of the coup. Recently the deaths of Resistance members seems to be increasing.

The conflict over land in the Bajo Aguán intensified with over 50 deaths; the pro-coup Miguel Facusée found himself facing campesinos occupying land that he claimed. He has used his security guards to take over land and elicited support from government forces. A provisional settlement has been reached, but will it rally transform the situation.

A climate of violence grew. When the government responds to protest by violence, violence looks justified. When the government spends it time and money on putting down or controlling street protests, normal police functions suffer.

A judicial and police system that was completely broken was shown to be the sham it has been.

There were some signs of possible change. Resistance began in many parts of the country – not only among the traditional leftists, the organized teachers and others,  and the Liberal Party members sympathetic to Zelaya, but among the poor. A Resistance movement began to form which rejected the status quo of the two major parties that shared power, influence, and the profits of a corrupt client system between them.

And there was the witness of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán which spoke out bravely. The bishop and most of the priests made it clear that they were opposed to the coup and sought other solutions to the crisis.

There were also efforts made to empower people to respond to social injustices – by the Jesuit supported ERIC/Radio Progreso and by the participation and governability programs of the Caritas of SRC and other dioceses.

Yet the situation looks bleak. One of the most disheartening developments is the US’s increasing militarized involvement in Honduras – in militarized fashion, including building and improving military bases, providing military and police aid, and the presence of Drug Enforcement Agency personnel.

Militarization is not the solution. It was a militarized coup that made things worse.

There is much more that I could write about – including some discouragement at the antics of some opponents of the coup, anger at the way the US State Department is ignoring the human rights situation here and providing aid and comfort to an unjust system. But that merits a book.

Yet in the midst of this I do see some continuing signs of hope, most of all with people at the grassroots. I have seen at least two mayors who are really working to change the lives of their constituents and are not merely trying to get re-elected. I see people standing up and claiming their rights and demanding that the structures of local government respond to their needs.

But, most of all, I see the people I work with in the countryside struggling to survive and to make a better society for their families and villages.

Structural change must come to Honduras. Some of that depends on what Hondurans do, especially those who have political and economic power. Part depends on US policy which is why I strongly support efforts to cut military aid to Honduras and to put strict human rights conditions on other non-humanitarian aid.

Is there a way out? Yes, but it is not easy. 

I will continue to pray and to work with the poor - seeking ways to help them see their dignity and become protagonists of their lives. That's what being a child of God is.


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